Straughn faithful to cause

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Straughn's Zack Lunsford crosses home plate Saturday. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Before practice, after practice and before each ball game, Straughn’s varsity baseball team takes a knee and thanks God for everything He is doing on the baseball field.

The Tigers will gather again at the right field foul line on Friday to get set and ready for the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs against Headland, a team they have faced three times.

Last week, top-ranked Straughn overcame early adversity when it fell to St. James 10-5 in the first game to win the next two games 11-1 and 15-4 to make it past the first round of the playoffs, which the Tigers haven’t done in the last five years.

What’s helped Straughn make it this far in 2011 lies in a Bible verse the team has used with permission from a team friend who is battling cancer, Tigers head baseball coach John Fussell said.

“Luke 18:27 says, and I’m paraphrasing, with men, all things are impossible, but with God, all things are possible,” Fussell said. “We realized that people in this world have battles that are a lot more important than baseball games.”

Fussell said that was the central topic of choice during the time between games one and two last Friday night.

“The thing I was most disappointed in was when things started to get bad for us in that first inning, when they (St. James) scored four runs, is that we just quit,” he said. “There was no emotion and there was no fight. If you’re going to fold the tents up under as something as minor as being down by four runs, then what’re you going to do when you have real problems?”

In Straughn’s previous battles with the Rams this season, the Tigers won 8-1 in the Southeast Invitational Tournament, and won the regular season area series with an 8-0 first game win, and a 2-1, 11-inning second area game win.

Rams head baseball coach Seth Nolen said his team will approach this series as if it was their last.

“Each time we played them, we got a little better and a little better,” Nolen said. “We’re taking the mind set of we’re going to go play and bust our tail and see what happens.”

Nolen said the 2-1 loss to Straughn came as a result of helping the other team get the win.

“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot and helped them out a lot,” he said. “In that last game, we didn’t swing the bats particularly well. The biggest thing we got out of it was that we can play with this bunch.

“They’re not the Yankees,” he added. “If we can play well, then we can play with this bunch. If we play really well, then we can give ourselves a chance. If not, then it might be an early summer.”

Straughn senior Nick Allen said the ultimate goal in every game for the team is to “glorify God” in all they do, no matter what the end result.

“It seemed since last year, that we are coming closer as a team and it seems that we’re coming closer to God,” Allen said. “We pray together before and after practice and before every game.

“Instead of playing for ourselves like we used to, like coach Fussell said, we’re playing to glorify God,” he said. “Without Him, there is no way we could do what we do.”

One aspect of the game senior Luke Fussell said that God has helped the team cope with is facing tough situations, like dealing with the first game loss to the Trojans last week.

“From here on out, we’re just going to take it week-by-week,” Luke said. “No matter who we’re playing, they can beat anybody on any given day. If we don’t come out and play with emotion and focus, anybody can beat us.”

When it comes down to baseball particulars this Friday in the second round of the playoffs, Fussell said pitching and hitting are the main keys against Headland.

“Our approach is going to have to be that our pitchers are going to have to battle on every pitch,” the coach said. “They have to not lose focus on any pitch. When they see a batter get up there, they have to see it as a battle.

“We can’t be afraid to throw any pitches in any count,” he said. “We have to have command of our pitches and keep it down.”

More importantly, Fussell said the spiritual parallels between coaches and players are similar, and that they have helped this season.

“To me, the greatest blessing about making it to the second round of the playoffs is that I get to be out here one more week with them because I’ve had them for five years,” Fussell said. “I’m not ready for it to be over, and neither are they.”

There will be two games played on Friday. A third game on Saturday will be played if necessary.

The first pitch is slated for 5 p.m. Friday, and the second game will begin around 7:30 p.m.